Girl Gone Viral

Girl Gone Viral is the second title in Alisha Rai’s Modern Love series. I liked it more than the first book in the series, probably because the dynamics and characters in this story are very different from The Right Swipe. Katrina and Jas have a sweet friends/ colleagues-to-lovers story, and it was a refreshing change of pace from the glut of enemies-to-lovers novels being published lately. Also refreshing was watching two adults without a lot of sexual experience fumble around–not everyone is a porn star their first time–although they caught on remarkably quickly, apparently. Perhaps that comes from being two people so attuned to each other and so eager to please the other.

One of the most frustrating plot devices in romance novels is often the one where everything could have been solved if only the characters had communicated and/or been honest with each other. But Girl Gone Viral actually uses that device believably and effectively. How do you communicate your long-held tender feelings with…your employer? With your loyal and indispensable employee? Katrina is very much aware of the potential power imbalance in their relationship, and Jas is very much aware of his duty, and as a result we get a gentle slow burn of a relationship between two kind and devoted people.

People with a lot of baggage, though. Wow. Katrina suffers from severe anxiety, complete with debilitating anxiety attacks. Jas is a veteran with his own traumatic past, who appears to suffer from serious PTSD (although it is never named as such). I love that this book is so brutally honest in showing the reality of living with these conditions. At the same time, reading about these conditions could feel exhausting sometimes. I think Rai communicated skillfully how frustrating it must be for people who must constantly deal with struggles like this. But reading about it wasn’t always enjoyable. I did like that both characters were eventually willing to seek any necessary help for their conditions and to communicate their struggles honestly with their loved ones.

Jas is a smoking hot hero. I kept picturing him as Deep Singh (without the turban) from the comic Super Sikh (which I absolutely loved) complete with those rippling muscles, his beard and the metal bracelet. I have never read about a romance starring an Indian Sikh hero before, but it was everything I hoped it’d be. Katrina is pretty easy to picture too, as she’s described as a half-Thai, half-white former model who married into wealth and is now an investor who loves to cook and be a homebody. Sound familiar? Yes, I kept picturing Chrissy Teigen the whole time too. She is a sweet character, kinder than some around her deserve, and it’s easy to root for both her and Jas.

I love the strong sense of family in this story as well, both Katrina’s found family with Rhiannon and Jia, and with Jas’ birth family. Jas’ farming background, with his family of wealthy farmers, was also interesting. I don’t tend to associate farming with wealth, having grown up around small family farms in Pennsylvania, so that took some mental adjustment. I loved the idea of a large Sikh farming community though, especially with the welcome inclusion of other cultures.

I was also intrigued at the romance Rai seemed to be setting up for Jia in the next novel. I wouldn’t have expected it, but I’m here for it. Representation matters. Jia is already a terrific character, helping to break stereotypes, but I enjoyed getting to know her more in this book and look forward to hearing from her and her possible love interest more in the next (unannounced) book in the series.

So, if you enjoy contemporary romances with truly diverse representation, and characters grappling with real issues, all while getting down and dirty with someone sweet, please do check out Girl Gone Viral. I think you’ll enjoy it too.

Thank you to #Netgalley and Harper Collins for this advanced copy of #GirlGoneViral . This is my honest opinion.

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One World, Many Colors

One World, Many Colors is a lovely picture book that shows beauty from around the world while teaching colors. The art really is lovely (aside from rather busy and confusing cover art), and the subjects of each painted illustration range from urban to rural to wilderness scenery, featuring people from many different areas of the world (Brazil, Vietnam, France, United States, etc) as well as a great variety of flora and fauna. The art is not only beautiful at a quick glance, but features little details that can be noticed upon more careful examination. The text is small black lettering, so this is definitely a book to read to a child, not an early reading text. But given the lovely art and diverse subject matter, this should be a book that is a pleasure to share with the children in your life. I will be keeping this in mind for future gifts for the children in my life.

Thank you to #NetGalley and Quarto Publishing for letting me read a digital advanced copy of #oneworldmanycolors . This is my honest opinion.

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The Secret Garden Cookbook: Newly Revised Edition

The Secret Garden Cookbook: Newly Revised Edition is a charming cookbook, full of lovely food photography, whimsical illustrations, and lots of historical context for the recipes being offered. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as The Little Women Cookbook, probably due to both preferring that original book better and also to feeling like the recipes were more closely tied to the original text of the novel. With The Secret Garden Cookbook, the author gave plenty of context for why the included recipes would have been appropriate to the story, and I really enjoyed the cultural and food history of the time and place in which The Secret Garden is set. But I didn’t feel like the book mentioned many of the recipes specifically, so making a themed cookbook from the original story was a bit of a stretch. It could as easily have been a cookbook about the food of several novels set in this time and place. So basically, it was interesting reading, but didn’t blow me away. Additionally, the text, at least in the advanced digital copy I received from NetGalley, was small black lettering on a white background, and not particularly easy on the eyes.

I am also sad because, as befits recipes from this era and region, there’s not many of them that would suit my dietary restrictions. You will find hardly any gluten free recipes, and most recipes are also heavy on animal products. While I’d love to try a jam roly-poly, I just don’t think it’s going to happen for me. I did find two recipes I’d like to try, a raspberry vinegar (similar to our modern vinaigrette, but thicker and sweeter, and apparently used as a common condiment at the time) and pease pudding. but not much else. Many of the rest sounded tasty, and I don’t want to discourage someone who is truly an omnivore from checking this cookbook out. But if you have dietary restrictions on gluten, dairy, meat, or eggs, I wouldn’t suggest reading this book in search of useful recipes.

Instead, read it for the historical tidbits. They really could be fascinating, from the varying diets of the social classes and ages, to gardening and cooking practices among the social classes. I was especially struck by the mention of an ochre-red liquid being placed on the tops of garden walls that would stain the hands of anyone who climbed over the wall, to keep out hungry or mischievous intruders. I presume this is where the phrase “caught red-handed” got its origin.

In short? This is a charming little cookbook, and a quick fascinating glimpse of culinary and gardening and social life in the era and region of The Secret Garden. If you read it with that in mind, prepared for a lovely and interesting book, I think you will enjoy it too.

Thank you to #NetGalley for giving me access to an #advancedcopy of #TheSecretGardenCookbookNewlyRevisedEdition . This is my honest opinion.

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Whiteout

Many contributing elements made me excited to read Whiteout by Adriana Anders, but somehow all of those elements never managed to coalesce into a story I cared about or enjoyed. First, there was the author: I’d read a previous romance by Adriana Anders that I remembered enjoying. So I was excited to read something else by her. Then, there was the unusual setting (I won’t say unique, because there’s a graphic novel and a movie based on the graphic novel with the EXACT SAME TITLE that also involves murder in Antarctica. But I digress…). I don’t find many romances set in Antarctica, so that sounded like a fun change of pace. There were also some nods to diversity early on which I was really excited to see represented in romance. Angel is apparently Latinx, and Ford/ Coop is neurodiverse, with a sensory processing disorder. Finally, I hadn’t read a romantic suspense or action adventure book in awhile, and I thought this might be a good way to reintroduce myself to the subgenre. I’m sad to say it wasn’t.

Some of my lack of connection to the story and frustration with the author’s writing may simply have been that I don’t apparently favor this type of story, and because it might have been me, not the book, I didn’t rate the story lower. I don’t think it’s incredibly sexy to have a big strong man who will go around killing people brutally to protect me. I don’t like simplistically evil villains. I’m especially not into where this story went with the murder and the reasons behind it. I don’t mind murder mysteries, or even stories dealing with serial killers. But somehow I missed that this story was about a huge transnational conspiracy behind the murders. You know, gummint out to get you, in league with big evil corporations. (Not a spoiler…you find this out pretty earlier in the book.) I don’t doubt that this happens far too often, but I don’t enjoy these themes in fiction. I should have known this book wasn’t my speed when the story started off with a gross scene about someone being badly beaten and slowly dying. But I charged on.

What about the diversity? I was initially excited to see neurodiversity and a Latina heroine represented. But…how are we told that Angel is Latinx? In addition to her name and dark coloring, her mama’s pasteles are mentioned several times, and another character mentioned once that Angel speaks Spanish. Also, apparently she smells like cinnamon and spices and loves to dance. It’s a weak effort at representation that does not affect her character much apart from where it is mentioned. But at least the author tried to diversify her book. A little more attention is given to Ford’s sensory processing disorder, because it’s used to excuse a lot of his behavior and attitude. But his neurodiversity was only mentioned when it could advance the plot (like being overwhelmed at a noisy party), and otherwise didn’t seem to affect his behavior throughout much of the story.

The writing itself felt pretty clunky. I never connected to either Angel or Ford, didn’t buy into their romance OR their sexual attraction, and didn’t really care what happened to them. And as I mentioned, the villains are extremely simplistic. Brutish violent monsters who drink and curse and have herpes sores (no, really) and don’t just murder people, but enjoy it. While loudly crunching mints. Trust me, that must be important, because it’s mentioned several times in the story. Also used frequently is the author’s tendency to use the phrase “the man” or “this woman” or “that man”–everyone was referred to constantly by other characters as “man” or “woman,” whether it was Angel thinking dreamily of Ford, or one of the villains raging over how the hero and heroine kept eluding them. Aside from constantly reinforcing a binary view of sexuality, the use of those phrases was so repetitive as to become not just noticeable but tedious.

Then, finally, just when the story seemed like it should be wrapping up, there was another 10-20 percent of the book to read. Because we were suddenly introduced to a whole new cast of characters, complete with their full names AND nicknames (because everyone had a “cool” nickname, like Leo or Ans or whatever) and their former military service and and their particular special skills. It was great to see a woman of color as the indispensable pilot, but otherwise I was just incredibly frustrated. I thought I’d finally finished the book, but no, we had to go through several more chapters detailing who these new characters were, and how they ran rescue missions and called in favors to subvert international regulations and national laws, but all for the greater good, so it was OK, and they were not only heroes, but COOL, and don’t you want to read a whole series about them?

No, no, I don’t. I thought this book had a lot of potential to be an enjoyable read for me, but I was incorrect. If you prefer simplistic stories with militaristic/ veteran heroes who are mavericks who buck the system when it suits them to go rescue people or something (like NCIS, for instance), then you may enjoy this. I did not, and I’m sorry to say it makes me hesitant to try anything else by this author in the future.

Nevertheless, I appreciate the chance to read an advanced copy of #Whiteout for #Netgalley . I read it in November when the advanced copy was granted, but waited til now to review, per Sourcebook Casablanca’s requests. This is my honest opinion.

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Get a Life, Chloe Brown

Did you ever like a book so much that you just struggle to know how to review it, and are worried that nothing you can say about it will do justice to its awesomeness, so you procrastinate longer and longer in reviewing the book, and then start to forget the details, and now it’s all so much more difficult to write a review, but you can’t NOT review it, because you loved it so much, and everyone else has to know how awesome it is, so you have to at least TRY to convince everyone to read it too? No? Is that just me?

Well, Get a Life, Chloe Brown is one of those books for me. I didn’t have a lot of expectations going into reading it. I’d heard of Talia Hibbert, but not read one of her books yet. But the cover is delightful, and the description sounded charming, complete with much needed diverse representation. Chloe is a Briton of African descent who also lives with chronic pain and illness and is plus-sized. I have several friends who deal with fibromyalgia, like Chloe does, and it helped me recognize and appreciate the representation even more, complete with lists to combat brain fog, caffeine to combat fatigue, and braces to help reduce joint strain and pain. I’m also here for culturally and racially diverse romance heroines, and this interracial romance definitely caught my attention.

And, oh, gosh, this book. It met every expectation I had and then more. I groaned a little at the beginning when I realized that Chloe was from a wealthy family (I’m so tired of reading romances about rich people already.), but the more I got to know her, the more I came to appreciate her prickly personality and steely determination and not be bothered by her trust fund. Also, she’s not mindlessly wealthy, even though her disability would mean it was perfectly reasonable for her to live a leisurely life. She’s a small business owner who does contract work online developing and maintaining websites. At the beginning of this story, Chloe realizes how safe and boring her life at home with her family has become (and how smothering a loving and well-intentioned family can be of a chronically ill family member), and she’s ready to launch herself into the greater world, armed with one of her many lists. This list is a checklist of a few basic items she thinks completing will help her get a life, including riding on a motorcycle, camping outdoors overnight, and being bad, among other things.

As Chloe settles into solo domesticity, though, and starts to work on her list, she starts to encounter Redford Morgan, the apartment complex supervisor, more and more. Sparks fly right away, but not in a good way, partially due to the many misconceptions they initially have about each other. So the rest of this story is them discovering each other as they discover themselves. Facing the demons and ghosts and scars of their pasts and the challenges in their present and future, to become better, stronger, braver people. And in the process they fall in incredibly hot, steamy, respectful, consensual, empowering love. Watching them grow into a relationship is sweet and emotional and real. Hearing them intimately explore each other is absolutely stunningly erotic and sensual. Not just a few flowery euphemistic descriptions here. These are explicit, steamy scenes guaranteed to curl some toes. I loved those scenes. I loved all the scenes. Red and Chloe have a sweet, sassy, supportive, empowering relationship with each other, and I am here for every minute of it.

I listened to the audio book version. The narrator’s voice took a little getting used to for me at first, but by the end I absolutely LOVED her narration. Her delivery of Red’s lines was terrific–one of the best male voices read by a female narrator I’ve ever heard. She captured the humor and the vulnerability and the sizzling sensuality of each scene perfectly, and only added to my enjoyment of the book. I can’t wait to find more audio books narrated by her, as well as more books written by Talia Hibbert.

This book had me swooning again and again, and I cannot wait for another installment in the series. While Chloe’s sisters don’t strike me as ideal romantic protagonists yet, I am sure Talia Hibbert will convince me otherwise in no time at all. She certainly sold me on Chloe and Red. So, go read this book. Read it because I say it’s great. Read it because a colleague told me that she never reads romance, but she loved this one. Read it because it’s a delightful romantic novel with diverse characters and smoking hot sex scenes and a swoon-worthy love story. Go read it already. What are you waiting for?

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Johnny's Pheasant

Johnny’s Pheasant is a charmingly written and illustrated picture book about a little boy and his grandmother, who find a pheasant lying by the side of the road and take it home. Grandma thinks it’s dead, but says she can use it for her crafts, but Johnny knows it’s fine. So they box it up and take it home to care for it (or craft from it). The story is simply told and easy for kids to understand. This is a story about an indigenous family, although the story never directly calls itself that. The art is unique, distinct in style, and colorful, and it captures the sense of mood and action in each scene well. I think this would be an engaging book for small children and a useful addition to a diverse picture book library. Just don’t blame me (or the author) if your child starts wanting to bring wild animals home.

Thank you to #NetGalley and University of Minnesota Press for letting me read an #advancedcopy of #JohnnysPheasant . This is my honest opinion.

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Alone in the Wild

Alone in the Wild is the fifth book in Kelley Armstrong‘s Rockton series. I have loved this series all along, and was very excited to get approved for an advanced copy by the publisher. But I lost interest a chapter or two into the book, set it aside for a week or more, and finally came back to it later. And while I did end up finishing most of it within a day, I didn’t love it or find it as gripping as earlier books in the series.

I think the difference is that there seems to be a different focus in this book. We’ve reached a point in the series arc where characters are maturing. There’s less focus on life and death choices, survival, acclimatization to the vast unknown of Canadian wilderness, and will they/ won’t they relationship dynamics. We’re at a point where we can start off a book with Casey and Dalton out camping on a weekend “holiday” from their law enforcement jobs in Rockton. And that’s fine, but it sets a different tone for the book. A more thoughtful book, that is less about the mystery/ murder, and more about Casey and Dalton’s relationship growth, about Casey finally facing and grappling with some of the consequences of her life before Rockton, especially the trauma she’s suffered and the damage it did to her body, and Dalton dealing with some of his own issues, and about Casey and Dalton deciding what comes next for them. It was also about taking care of an infant, and honestly that part was not very interesting to me.

This book is also about exploring the world outside town perimeters, about settlers and “hostiles” with their “primitive” behavior. On one hand, I’ve been dying to know more about the people and communities who live outside but within reach of Rockton. People who have ties, however strained or tenuous, to that original community. On the other hand, when you take us out of Rockton for much if not most of the book, we lose that “locked room” mystery atmosphere that the previous books have had, and we get little to no meaningful time with most of the characters from the previous books. This is the Casey and Dalton (and Storm) show, with only perfunctory glimpses of most of the rest of town’s residents. The people outside town, and the dynamics among themselves, and between them and Rockton/ Dalton and Casey and other communities and Rockton escapees are interesting, but apparently not what I love about this series.

Also, and this is a personal preference, but having Storm follow Casey and Dalton around stresses me out so much. I realize there are human characters frequently in peril, and that Storm is a working dog, but I’m an anxious mess worrying the whole time that someone’s going to injure the dog or worse. and it’s not a fun kind of suspense. #KeepStormSafe

I appreciated that this book FINALLY made mention of First Nation populations in Canada and specifically in the Yukon. But it’s still weird to me that this has been the first mention, and they get so little attention. Yes, there’s diversity in the population of Rockton, including Casey and April’s Asian heritage, Will’s African-American identity, and April’s autistic behavior, and even some racial diversity in the outside communities, apparently, but the series has seemed to ignore the fact that First Nation members live in the Yukon, and I don’t like that.

There were things I appreciated about the book. While it wasn’t what I expected, and didn’t create a sense of suspense or urgency in the story, I appreciated that both Casey and Dalton were grappling with issues from the past. That they were talking them through like well-adjusted adults, and communicating about their relationship expectations for the future. I could appreciate how Casey’s custodianship of the mystery infant brought up many unresolved issues that she had with her infertility (mentioned in previous stories, so not a spoiler). I liked that Casey spent some time talking about issues that she faced as an Asian-Canadian person and as a woman, especially one working in law enforcement. I appreciated that there was a little time with and development of some of the characters in town, including not just April but also abrasive Jen and Rockton’s newly resident young psychopath, whose name I can’t remember.

Overall, though, I just felt like this book wasn’t very gripping or suspenseful. It was less about the mystery or the town, and more about character development and moving the story along. It just didn’t draw me in like previous books in the series. I’m not giving up on the series yet, though. I’m curious to see what develops in what appears to be a looming showdown with the council, including how residents like Petra and Isabel will play into that, and whether we learn anything more about the origins of the hostiles. I just hope that the next book in the series can find a way to address pressing questions but still be a tense, engrossing wilderness survival locked room murder mystery. Fingers crossed.

Thank you to #Netgalley and Minotaur books for letting me read an #advancedcopy of #AloneintheWild . This is my honest opinion.

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